Cinnamon is an extremely popular spice in cooking and baking (and viral videos), used the world over by many people. Recently, cinnamon has received some limelight for its numerous purported health benefits which has seen its popularity skyrocket within the health and fitness industry. Cinnamon has been rigorously studied to examine the numerous health benefits attributed to it.
Cinnamon is available in two main varieties; cassia cinnamon, the more common and cheaper variety, and ceylon cinnamon, also known as ‘true’ cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon, although harder to get hold of and more expensive, is the preferred source for use as a health supplement. This is due to ceylon cinnamon containing considerably less coumarin than cassia, a compound that has been found to be toxic to the liver and kidneys if taken in sufficient amounts.
Effects on blood sugar levels
Numerous studies have shown cinnamon to have a beneficial control effects on pro-diabetic diets in multiple ways. Cinnamon can inhibit the effect of numerous digestive enzymes, reducing the speed carbohydrates are digested. This leads to a decreased uptake of glucose in the blood stream and avoids large spikes in insulin. Cinnamon also contains a compound called methylhydroxychalcone polymer (MHCP) that mimics the effect of insulin by improving the uptake of glucose into cells, but at a much slower pace. This is again beneficial in reducing any spikes insulin, whilst still providing a small but steady stream of glucose for energy. This has an obvious anti-diabetic effect by reducing blood sugar levels, with some studies citing as much as a 30% reduction.
Improves insulin sensitivity
The transport of blood sugars from the bloodstream into cells for energy is an essential process for which insulin is required. However, some people develop degrees of insulin resistance, inhibiting this process, through a lack of physical exercise and/or a poor diet. Insulin resistance is hallmark of extremely serious conditions such as Type II diabetes if left untreated. However, multiple studies have shown that cinnamon can help to reduce insulin resistance, restoring the ability of insulin to fulfil its role, and greatly reducing the risk of developing Type II diabetes.
Cinnamon is loaded with antioxidants, and has even been shown to have the highest concentration of antioxidants and polyphenols when compared to 25 other of the most frequently used spices. Antioxidants protect the body from damaged caused by free radicals that result from strenuous exercise, illness or pollution. Antioxidants help to keep your body in peak condition by fighting off both short term illness and long term diseases.
The main active compound in cinnamon, cinnamaldehyde, has also been shown to exhibit antibacterial and antifungal properties. Studies have shown that cinnamon extract was used to effectively treat fungal respiratory tract infections, as well as oral bacteria reducing the build up of tooth decay and bad breath.
May reduce risk of heart disease
As well as cinnamon’s ability to improve blood sugar levels, there is also evidence that cinnamon can reduce levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides, while maintaining or even improving levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. This has obvious implications considering heart disease is the number one cause of premature deaths in western countries, often caused by the build up of cholesterol that leads to the stiffening of clogging of arteries.
Some animal studies have also shown that cinnamon was effective at reducing blood pressure, another major factor in the development of heart disease. When combined with its ability to improve cholesterol levels, cinnamon supplementation could provide an effective two pronged assault on heart disease. Although this was an animal study, this still shows considerable potential and is something that warrants further investigation with human participants.
BSc Sports Biomedicine and Nutrition